When Jeff Natale shows up at spring training in a few weeks, he’s likely to hear the same question over and over again from former teammates and coaches.
“Wow Nat – how much weight did you lose?”
(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)
The 27-year-old infielder has followed a rigorous fitness regimen this winter in hopes of having a big year with Pawtucket in 2010.
“I’ve lost 20 pounds since the end of last season,” Natale told me. “I went from being about 195 pounds to about 175 right now. I feel great. I feel more athletic, I look better, and when you look good and feel good you play good. That’s the goal for this year.”
In the off-season, Jeff works at a baseball/softball training facility near Boston called Frozen Ropes. The owner had been following a fitness routine for several months and recommended it to Natale.
“It’s been a lot of hard work,” Jeff said. “I started doing a program called CrossFit which is like a combination of gymnastics, Olympic weight lifting, and a heck of a lot of running. The combination of those three things has enabled me to get much stronger and in better overall shape.”
Over the past two seasons, Natale has only played in 108 games. In 2008 he broke his arm in April and missed nearly 2 ½ months. Last season, Jeff endured two stints on the disabled list due to a strained oblique muscle.
“I want to win a position this year,” Natale said. “I don’t want to just make a team; I want to be an everyday player coming out of spring training. That motivated me to try a different program and really start to get myself into optimal shape.”
There’s no question that Natale can hit. In five minor league seasons, he has a career batting average of .298 and a Moneyball-esque OBP of .432. Former PawSox manager Ron Johnson (now Boston’s first base coach) raves about Natale’s ability to consistently have good at-bats, and told Jeff that if he can improve defensively at second base, he can make it to the major leagues.
“I talked to RJ on the phone a couple of times in the off-season and I know he has confidence in me,” Natale said. “I’m just hoping that he’ll speak highly of me up there and I think that he will. He really encouraged me to get into the best shape possible and do all ground ball work. He said to not even worry about my offensive game too much and just concentrate on the defensive side.”
“I’ve been doing a lot of agility training and running every day and it’s going to help me get to balls a little bit quicker,” Jeff continued. “I’ve been taking ground balls a lot more this off-season than I ever have before and I’m been throwing more than I ever have before as well. I just feel that being a better athlete is going to help me tremendously defensively and if I can keep swinging the bat the way I have been, hopefully I’ll be in good shape.”
I know I speak for my broadcast partner Steve Hyder when I say that we would love to have Natale back in Pawtucket this season. Not only because he’s one of the toughest outs in the International League, but because of “At Bat With Nat” – the hysterically funny interviews that he does once a week for our pre-game show (you can listen to them here).
“Looking at the guys that we’ve picked up, we’ve got a whole slew of new guys that need to be initiated to the team,” Jeff said with a laugh. “I’ll be learning a lot about these guys during spring training and I can’t wait to share some of those stories with our fans. Hopefully, some embarrassing stories.”